October half-term, Provence with kids, 2 mums with precisely 4 kids ages 4 to 7, what an adventure! A week filled with seaside indulging, cities sightseeing, mountain & castles exploring and a very bespoke itinerary with some great day trips from Aix en Provence.
→ Getting there & around: We gave up the velocity of the plane for a more thrilling train ride under The Channel and across France: Eurostar, London-Paris and TGV, Paris to Aix-en-Provence. The latter city was our base for exploration and we rented a car to maximise the visits in 5 days – here are our highlights
→ Accommodation: spacious, very Provencal but with a modern twist 3-bedroom apartment at ‘Les Suites du Cours’, in one of Aix-en-Provence most beautiful building (mansion built in 1655), right in the city centre.
1’ day: Cassis (1h drive), a pearl of the French Riviera. Nestled in between the famous calanques (fjord-like inlets carved into the white limestone), Cassis is a very picturesque fishing town overlooked by a charming castle, and it has its own beach, which we had the luck to enjoy given the warm and beautiful sunshine.
The seafront is filled with lovely little restaurants with exquisite food (not to be missed: calamari a la Provençal and moules frites).
Attractions for all ages: boat trip to the calanques, little-train ride across the town and hiking paths along the coast.
2’ day: Marseille (45min drive). Second largest French city, nevertheless filled with beautiful natural landscape and enjoyable activities for kids. We hiked up to the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, from where the view is just breathtaking.
We enjoyed crêpes in a little square by the Vieux Port (‘old port’), before embarking in a boat trip around the Frioul islands (Îles du Frioul), home to many rocky inlets, beaches and sandy creeks, which also host a sort of French Alcatraz.
At sunset, we managed to squeeze in a wander around Le Panier, a charming neighbourhood filled with artsy ambience, artisanal shops, ateliers, hidden squares and sun-baked cafes’. The quarter is history-woven, given that it was the Greeks first settled in Marseille in 600b.c.
3’ day: Les Baux and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (ca. 1h drive, one of the best day trips from Aix en Provence) – In the heart of the Alpille, Les Baux is an enchanting medieval village at a fortified rocky site.
Blessed with another glorious sunny and warm day, we immersed ourselves in the pretty cobbled lanes, filled with petite shops of superb French delicatessen, pure lavender oil and fancy soaps, and cosy restaurants with terraces overlooking the mountains.
The kids loved exploring the extensive fortified-chateau area (especially playing on the catapults!), the magnificent setting, and views of vast olive trees fields and vineyards. Just 10 minutes walking from Les Baux, not to be missed is the ‘Carriers de Lumiere’, a lights and music show held in a cave, which is unique in the world.
We totally immersed ourselves in the images of Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo’s paintings talking to us about the ephemeral nature of life, about pleasures and vanities of this world – all projected onto all the surfaces of the quarries, accompanied by a selection of fabulous music. The ground was completely covered, too, and became a vast carpet of images. The kids were mesmerised by such an intense sensorial experience, and so were the adults. The day flew and we were left with an hour or so to visit the nearby fabulous village of Saint-Rémy, charm of a typically Provencal way of life. This was where Van Gogh found inspiration for many of his most famous paintings, and such a perfect autumn sunset aperitif enjoyed in the heart of the village left us with no wonder on why the painter found this place so inspiring.
4’ – 5’ day: Aix-en-Provence Finally, we had the last couple of days to enjoy Aix, a city of art, light and fountains. Our base was so central right on Cours Mirabeau that we could finally enjoy a car-free day.
The Cours itself is a beautiful tree-lined avenue, with terrace cafés, bookshops and food markets every other day (a feast of croissants, baguettes, quiches, olives, cheeses, mushrooms, fruits and more).
The air was warm, the light sublime and the sidewalk always alive. We recommend the Les Deux Garçons restaurant, where local vip Cezanne and Zola used to hang out a century ago. A must-see is the Atelier Cezanne, a bright studio set in a beautiful Provencal house a 15 minute walk up the hill, and the birthplace of dozens of Cezanne’s works. Aix Vielle and its cafes, narrow streets and little squares is another delight. We also manage to take the kids to the playground of Jourdan Park, which was also a beauty with autumn colours in full swing.
Provence with kids and so many amazing day trips from Aix en Provence…could not recommend it highly enough! Spring and summer would also make a great time to explore and enjoy the lavender and sunflowers field! For further inspiration on French gems, head to our 10 days fabulous itinerary around chateaux hotels in here. Or simply relaxing on some luxury authentic holidays in Dordogne at Chateau Les Merles, head here.